The story of two young boys who died in a fire in Wing Hing Wai village, Yuen Long, on October 27, is heartbreaking ("Grieving dad's plea on illegal works", January 20). I have reminded the director of lands, the Ombudsman, and the Town Planning Board repeatedly that death was a matter of time under the prevailing small-house policy.
The lack of access for fire engines is the result of the manner in which the government administers the policy. When it was implemented, officials decided access to a new house should be negotiated among villagers and the land leases state the government does not guarantee right of access.
This may have been acceptable when houses were built in the middle of paddy fields. Now they are added in the middle of built-up villages. Information released under the Land Supply Strategy shows the remaining 1,500 hectares of the 4,500 hectares designated for small houses dotted throughout villages. Access was made worse when the Heung Yee Kuk negotiated a relaxation of emergency vehicle access (EVA) requirements so more houses could be built on remaining land. As a result 642 villages are without a sustainable layout of roads and parking.
I expected the first death to be the result of fights among adults, not a fire. Car ownership in villages is often high due to limited public transport.
In the absence of public works, trees are felled, land filled, slopes cut, and government land occupied without authority or compliance with engineering standards.
The lack of access and parking areas leads to disputes, intimidation, damage, and violence. Wendy Hui was badly beaten in Kwun Hang Tsuen village in Ma On Shan in May last year. Designing Hong Kong asked the Sai Kung district officer recently to mediate after a family received a razor blade in the mail for refusing to pay "rent" for parking on government land.
The chief executive says we must respect the policy.
It is easier to just let available land for small houses run out. Ending the policy formally would crystallise villagers' rights and result in compensation claims nobody wants to pay.
The government may not be in a hurry to end the small-house policy, but the deaths of the boys and ongoing disturbances show that administration of it must change urgently.
The director of lands should not continue granting land and rights for new small houses without having first ensured adequate access and parking is available in a village.
Paul Zimmerman, CEO, Designing Hong Kong